Yachting on the Norfolk Broads


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The yachts were handicapped when they raced according to a Rating formula, which generally took account of the sail area and water line length of a yacht, these being the principle factors governing its speed. Club officials struggled to maintain fair competition and often modified the formula, whilst the builders & designers tried to outwit them with each new boat they produced! Frequently the result was a yacht built to an extreme design in an effort to outwit the handicapper, exhibiting huge sail areas on a short waterline with very long overhangs. The shape of the boat was thus heavily influenced by mathematical formulae, no surprise then that Frank Harding Chambers was in reality a mathematics master rather than a boat builder. Chambers understood how to manipulate the facets of yacht design, to enhance speed without attracting a heavy penalty from the rating formula and he employed the best tradesmen to transform his designs into the real thing. Consequently of course his boats won many races, they earned their owners money and his company flourished as a direct result of these successes on the water. To this day, most Broads yachts tend to carry more sail than usual and many still show majestic overhangs fore & aft.

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What happened next?

This febrile environment of extreme yacht development in a semi-professional racing application, arguably reached its zenith in the first decade of the 20th Century but, rather like the light bulb that burns brightest before expiring in a flash, it quickly changed beyond all recognition. Two World Wars and an intervening world recession all had effect, but in reality the step change occurred when the gentlemen owners finally tired of financing the race to build the fastest yachts and all too often, the experiments that failed and were frequently broken up after their first season. “One Design” racing emerged here in 1899 with the establishment of the first Broads One Design, and then in 1908 the Yare & Bure One Design, as the same gentlemen yachting enthusiasts, decided to make racing a level playing field. Henceforth, to win was to prevail in terms of pure sailing skill on the water, rather than having commissioned the best hybrid design. The big yachts of course continued as the premier racing fleet, at least until 1914, but no more were built after 1910. When war came in 1914, it had an immediate effect on yacht racing as it then was, because these racing leviathans relied so much on paid hands, many of whom went to war never to return. Racing took a long while to recover after the First World War and it was never the same again, with many of the bigger boats being broken up or sold out of the area. Remarkably however, a few examples survived and may be seen racing again now, like Maidie built in 1904 and featured on the National Historic Ships register. The One Design classes have however, flourished beyond all compare, and it is remarkable that the two principle designs (BOD and YBOD) though both well over one hundred years old, still dominate the present day regatta circuit and are campaigned as hard as they ever were. The advent of GRP as a building material in the 1980s, allowed the classes to expand, although it is testament to the “One Design” ideal that the older wooden boats now beautifully restored, still perform on absolutely equal terms.

For regatta dates to see racing in the Broads, please refer to the Norfolk & Suffolk Boating Association website

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Mike Barnes